How were you disciplined growing up? Has anyone made an assumption about you based on your appearance? How do you stand up for yourself? Do you speak another language? Does that impact how close you feel to your heritage? First date, who pays?
These is not your typical "How's the weather?" elevator small talk. But a couple creatives from R/GA think these questions might actually be the answer to making the workplace more inclusive.
R/GA associate creative director for art Shannon Ross and associate creative director for copy Kenia Perez — partners within the agency known as "ShaKen" — produced a video series (and later, a card game) called "Not So FAQ." As the video says: "The ad industry has an inclusion problem, but hiring diverse talent isn't enough to solve it. It's time we started talking."
"We felt ... outside of the circle a lot," says Ross. "A lot of our creative directors, they would have relationships with other people like them. Most of our creative directors were white men. We always thought, 'If only they got to know us better, if only they understood.'"
Perez adds, "Diversity is such a buzzword right now. Agencies are definitely hiring more and more diverse people, more and more women, more and more people in the LGBTQ community -- but once those people are here they feel excluded."
The point of Not So FAQ was go beneath the surface with people to figure out what they really have in common with another person.
"One small question could just spark so many other conversations," Perez says. The queries are not meant to be intimidating — she gives the example of asking someone whether they were raised in a city or a suburb.
"That's a simple question. But then it goes into so much more about, 'I went to a small school, I went to a big school, I was surrounded by different people' -- things like that … You can really see someone for who they are."
Finding those commonalities helps create empathy among people who might have many more differences than similarities -- whether it's a conversation between an executive and a subordinate, client and agency or between two people who rarely interact within the agency.
Ross says the game-like nature of being prompted by a card, rather than asked an out-of-the-blue question from a total stranger, makes participants feel more at ease. "The card definitely helps kind of put down your differences, put down your guard," she says. An internal R/GA survey found participants put their comfort level with the game at a 4.1 out of 5.
But certain red cards signify trickier questions ("How would your parents feel about you dating outside of your race?"). Those might make players a little bit uncomfortable, which is part of the process.
"You're supposed to feel a little bit challenged and a little bit uneasy," Perez says. "You've never had conversations with these people unless they were about weather or work."
The pair created 100 packs to be used in R/GA offices, which staffers can play by checking out a pack at office services. The plan is to send packs to other IPG and external agencies as part of an inclusion challenge. Perez and Ross hope the cards could be used at conferences and other settings to break down barriers.
"Our goal is for this inclusion initiative to go along with all the diversity initiatives and make people feel they belong, help people feel comfortable," Perez says.
It seems to be already working at R/GA.
Mike Elenterio, an R/GA researcher for FutureVision, played the game on the topic of "fear," and Nadia Saccardo, an associate creative director for the agency's content studio, played with bullying-themed cards.
"The best way to describe it is it was very raw," Saccardo says. In her group was an executive from the agency, but she says the players quickly forgot about that during the game. "By the time we'd done the first couple rounds of cards, titles didn't matter. I was speaking quite candidly."